How to Debunk 2 Climate Change Denier Myths

The following is advice on debunking two common anthropogenic climate change denier myths.

The first point is the “Global Warming Petition Project.”

“30,000 scientists have signed,” the petition claims. What it fails to point out is that very few of these 30,000 constitute actual scientists (only c. 9,000 have PhDs), and even fewer (try 0.1%) have a background in climatology.

With a quick look at the website — which looks like it could very have been designed in the ’90s* — one quickly gets the impression that this is a telltale sign for telltale propaganda.

In the Huffington Post, Kevin Grandia quickly and succinctly pokes so many holes in the petition that it sinks in just a few paragraphs:

The 30,000 Global Warming Petition Is Easily-Debunked Propaganda

To say that the oft-touted “30,000 Global Warming Petition” project stinks would be the understatement of the year.

.1% of Signers Have a Background in Climatology

When I think I’m having chest pains I don’t go to the dermatologist, I go to a cardiologist because it would be absurd to go to skin doctor for a heart problem. It would be equally absurd to look to a scientist with a background in medicine (of which there are 3,046 on the petition) for an expert opinion on the science of climate change. With science broken down into very narrow specialties a scientific expert in one specialty does not make that person an automatic authority in all things science.

In this way the logic of the 30,000 petition is completely flawed, which isn’t surprising given its questionable beginnings.

The petition first emerged in April 1998 and was organized by Art Robinson of the self-proclaimed “Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine” (OISM).

Along with the Exxon-backed George C. Marshall Institute, Robinson’s group co-published the infamous “Oregon Petition” claiming to have collected 17,000 signatories to a document arguing against the realities of global warming.

The petition and the documents included were all made to look like official papers from the prestigious National Academy of Science. They weren’t, and this attempt to mislead has been well-documented.

Along with the petition there was a cover letter from Dr. Fred Seitz (who has since died), a notorious climate change denier (and big tobacco scientist) who over 30 years ago was the president of the National Academy of Science.

Also attached to the petition was an apparent “research paper” titled Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. The paper was made to mimic what a research paper would look like in the National Academy’s prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy journal. The authors of the paper were Robinson, Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon (both oil-backed scientists) and Robinson’s son Zachary. With the signature of a former NAS president and a research paper that appeared to be published in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, many scientists were duped into signing a petition based on a false impression.

The petition was so misleading that the National Academy issued a news release stating: “The petition project was a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists and to rally them in an attempt to undermine support for the Kyoto Protocol. The petition was not based on a review of the science of global climate change, nor were its signers experts in the field of climate science.”

Time and time again, I have had emails from researchers who have taken random samples of names from the list and Google searched them for more information. I urge others to do the same. What you’ll quickly find is either no information, very little information or information substantiating the fact that the vast majority of signers are completely unqualified in the area of climate change science.

The list is very difficult to verify as a third-party, but this hasn’t stopped the Petition from bouncing around the internet and showing up in mainstream media.

Given all this it seems to me that anyone touting this as proof that “global warming is a hoax” completely misunderstands the process of scientific endeavor or has completely exhausted any real argument that rightfully brings into to doubt the reality of climate change.

Or, then again, they could just be in it for the money.

*Turns out it was — 1998.

The second argument, an interesting one, is that anthropogenic climate change is a myth because water vapor is the largest greenhouse gas, and water vapor is naturally emitted.

After doing a bit of digging (i.e., 5 seconds of digging), one can easily find, once more, that this myth is precisely that — a myth.

In a segment titled “If water vapour is the key greenhouse gas, why are man-made emissions important?,” in its series The Ultimate Climate Change FAQ, The Guardian debunks the ridiculous argument in just a few paragraphs:

It’s true that water vapour is the biggest overall contributor to the greenhouse effect and that humans are not responsible for directly emitting this gas in quantities sufficient to change its concentration in the atmosphere. However, the scientific evidence suggests that the warming caused by man-made emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is increasing the amount of water vapour in the air by boosting the rate of evaporation.

Unlike CO2, which can persist in the air for centuries, water vapour cycles through the atmosphere quickly, evaporating from the oceans and elsewhere before coming back down as rain or snow. Since the rate of evaporation rises with temperature, the amount of water vapour in the air at any one time (and the amount of warming it causes) is strongly related to the amount of other greenhouse gases in the air.

This is an example of a positive feedback loop: humans release CO2, which causes warming, which boosts evaporation, which in turn amplifies the warming. Indeed, scientists believe that evaporation is the most important positive feedback loop in the global climate system, doubling or tripling the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 emissions.

This explains why, despite water vapour constituting the largest part of the greenhouse effect, the world’s science academies have agreed, there is strong evidence that human activities are driving the observed change in temperatures.

Add these to the list of anthropogenic climate change denier myths. Evidence scares climate change deniers.